Perl’s future is in doubt, according to the latest update to the TIOBE Index.
“The fork of Perl 6 (and its delays for decades) together with the unclear future of what was going to happen to the language was the main reason for engineers to look for alternatives such as Python and Ruby,” read the note accompanying the Index, which traces the relative popularity of the world’s programming languages. “And still today the Perl community hasn’t defined a clear future, and as a consequence, it is slowly fading away.”
In order to create its rankings, TIOBE leverages data from a variety of aggregators and search engines, including Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Amazon. For a language to rank, it must be Turing complete, have its own Wikipedia entry, and earn more than 5,000 hits for +”<language> programming” on Google. The top rankings rarely shift very much—Java usually leads from month to month, followed by C, C++, Python, and C#–but there’s always some action further down the list.
Perl is one of those languages experiencing a fair bit of activity, having dropped from 10th to 16th place over the past twelve months. That’s quite a dip, considering how (as TIOBE notes) it was a dominant language 12 years ago. But the people behind the TIOBE Index claim they’ve predicted this fall for quite some time: “In 2008 we said in an interview with Dr. Dobb’s Journal that Perl would go extinct based on the trend we saw in the TIOBE index.”
The TIOBE Index isn’t the only ranking where Perl has experienced some turbulence; RedMonk’s visualization of its long-term programming-language rankings likewise shows quite a dip over the past few years.
For tech pros and developers who still rely on Perl, the data seems pretty clear: it’s perhaps time to explore alternatives, even if that means porting a legacy app. There’s a reason they call the language the “Swiss Army Chainsaw”: it’s powerful and will get the job done, but other languages are a bit more streamlined (and potentially less messy).